Thursday, March 25, 2010

March 25: Sniglets Before Spring Break

By Sylvia Gurinsky

President Barack Obama addressed his health care bill signing speech on Monday to all Americans. A few of them - moderate Republicans in Congress - must be kicking themselves that they can't really live up to that label on this history-making law.

Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine remained relatively silent. The so-called "maverick" John McCain seems to have had a reverse exorcism, taking on the personality of his 2008 presidential running mate, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Are they that afraid of their constituents, of the right-wing Republicans in their states and the country?

We're now seeing the risk some supporters of the bill put themselves in, with news of the threats they've received. But they went with their consciences. So those who wanted to support the bill but didn't because of fear of political repercussions should remember the wise words of one of the most famous Democrats of all: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.


Why I disagree with Marion Hammer:

The Florida Legislature, naturally pushed by their sugar daddies and mommies (including the head mommy, director Marion Hammer) in the National Rifle Association, have passed legislation that will ban state agencies from asking parents trying to adopt about gun ownership.

Gov. Charlie Crist should veto this, of course. But he's trying to burnish his right-wing-extremist credentials against Marco Rubio, so he probably won't.

Remember who to blame the next time the adopted Junior gets ahold of Daddy's gun and shoots a friend by accident.


Why I agree with Marion Hammer

Well, it had to happen sometime......

I agree with the head of the NRA, of course, over an issue that has nothing to do with guns: Florida's Driver's License Handbook.

For the last five years, the book has been printed by Ken Underwood, who has printed it for free in exchange for putting ads for his "National Safety Commission" driver education courses in the book.

Hammer says he's had provocative-looking ads in the book - too provocative for teenagers. She objects to a proposal to continue to allow Underwood to bid on publishing the book, though the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles ended his contract.

Dara Kam has reported for The Palm Beach Post:

When I studied for my license renewal last year, I had a book with cheesy ads for a traffic school, but everyone was fully dressed, so I'm not sure if Hammer and I were looking at the same thing.

But she's right that a driver's license manual is no place for provocative ads. And if the department ended the contract, that needs to be respected by the legislature. No preference should be given to any contractor, period.


For those currently watching television news in the Miami area: An extraordinary sight, as thousands of people converge along Calle Ocho in a march to protest the treatment of Las Damas de Blanco, also known as Ladies in White, in a march they conducted in Havana last week.

The Cuban military roughed up the women as they protested on the anniversary of the jailing in Cuba of 75 dissidents.

The Callo Ocho march and rally were organized by Gloria and Emilio Estefan. Other rallies and campaigns have been organized across the country in support of the Ladies in White.



Finally, word today from Friends of Marine Stadium that on April 6, the Miami-Dade Commission will consider a resolution to authorize $3 million in historic preservation funds toward the restoration of the Miami Modern facility that was built in 1964, but has been closed since after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Miami Marine Stadium seems to be structurally sound, if covered in graffiti. The Friends groups and other supporters of preservation believe the stadium, which hosted boat races and concerts, can be a popular concert and community venue once again.

I second that. So should county commissioners on April 6.


This blog will be on spring break (or I will) until Monday, April 12. Happy Passover, Easter and Spring!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 24: More Fairness Needed at Fairchild

By Sylvia Gurinsky

I guess I goofed. I made my mother goof, too.

We're both members of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and we sent in our proxy cards to vote for the members of the Board of Trustees that were listed. So did thousands of other members.

But we didn't know the whole story when we voted.

We knew a little bit about the contretemps that cost Fairchild Education Director Caroline Lewis her job late last year. But we and others who sent in their proxy ballots weeks ago did not know the full extent of the issues of contention, not just concerning Lewis, until The Miami Herald published a too little-too late article on Sunday. (The blog Eye On Miami has been covering the matter at length.)

The elections took place yesterday:

The grumbling and protests will likely continue, and could eventually culminate with Fairchild executives in court as others seek to receive a full accounting of what's been going on there.

The complaints have included poor employee morale and too much of an emphasis on pricey art exhibits at the expense of the gardens. (Exactly what do all those cars parked in the Lowlands on weekends do to the plant life there?)

One of the sources of contention is the lack of term limits for board members. Board of Trustees President Bruce Greer has held that position for 10 years - way, WAY too long, whether he does a good job or not.

There are other issues. At last week's Orchid Festival, I noticed quite a few Hispanic families, but did not see Hispanic, African-American or Haitian-American volunteers. The gardens need to be more reflective of the community they're in.

Fairchild has been touting its success and its profits. But there's nothing that can kill success like bad publicity, and yesterday's election will not put these issues to rest.

Fairchild has been a beautiful South Florida landmark for 72 years. Only total openness, honesty and fairness by Greer and the rest of Fairchild's leadership will take away the ugly stain of these past few months.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 23: Legislative Slush Fund Should Not Be Reinstated

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Perhaps Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature have the same malady Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez had: Pay Raise Syndrome.

You'll recall that in the middle of a bad economy, while many county workers were having either their pay slashed or their jobs eliminated, Alvarez was giving many of his employees a raise.

Reporter Marc Caputo writes for the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald that the same thing was happening in Tallahassee:

What the legislature is planning this year is worse than anything Alvarez did last year.

This year, many state employees also face pay cuts. Also this year, the legislature is considering reviving what's known as "leadership funds" - slush funds, really, that legislators can use to help their friends and their re-election chances. They're part of alleged election reform bills, SB 880 and HB 1207. In 1989, the legislature voted to eliminate those funds.

The current legislature is filled with the same kind of people who have the Republican Party of Florida in such trouble for the way it spends money. What's a few million dollars from the state budget for their re-election when schools and social service agencies are suffering? Too much for Florida.

All Floridians - especially those Tea Partiers who profess to be against wasteful government spending - should contact their local lawmaker through Online Sunshine or Crist at his Web site, and call on them to say no to these bills.

Creating a new slush fund for the legislature while many people are still living on no jobs or cut salaries certainly qualifies as wasteful spending.

Monday, March 22, 2010

March 22: Mr. McCollum, Hands Off Health Insurance Reform!

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It almost brings up shades of the late Alabama Gov. George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, defending segregation even as federal law was changing.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's plan to challenge the constitutionality of the health insurance reform bill that President Barack Obama may sign tomorrow smacks of the same kind of short-sighted defiance, not to mention a bald effort on McCollum's part to get some points in the governor's race. (Hello, Alex Sink? Are you there to step forward and disagree with him? Have you grown a spine yet?)

McCollum is one of 10 state attorneys general - all Republicans, who'd've thought? - planning lawsuits. Just what this budget-battered state needs; a waste of more money that is needed for the state's precious resources - including health care.

They're turning their backs on the neediest residents in their states, the ones Obama plans to sign this legislation for - the ones elected officials in both major political parties from Teddy Roosevelt to Teddy Kennedy have fought for for nearly a century.

Republicans are talking about "repealing" this, much as the racists of the 1950s and 60s - most of them Democrats - talked about rolling back Brown v. Board of Education or the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.

Last night, Obama said, "This is what change looks like." And if anyone should know, it's the first African-American president, who is in the White House because most of the country didn't listen to people like George Wallace.

Someday, that same house could be home to a child or young adult of today whose life was saved because Congress didn't listen to people like Bill McCollum.

Hands off the reform, Mr. McCollum!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March 18: Turkey Must Come To Terms With Its Past

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Turkey cannot move forward until it addresses its past.

The United States Congress and Swedish Parliament voted to condemn Turkey's killing of Armenians in 1915 and used the term "genocide." Turkey hasn't exactly impressed with its current behavior - recalling diplomats and now threatening to expel Armenians who live in the country.

What was that expression about those who do not remember the past?

Turkey needs to take a lesson from Germany, which has fully come forward about its history with Adolf Hitler, the Nazis and the Holocaust. Germany has restored itself as a leader in Europe, in large part because it came clean. South Africa has been doing the same with its history of apartheid.

Turkey wants to enter the European Union, but that may be on hold as this matter percolates. For its own people, the Armenian people and the rest of the world, Turkey needs to take a serious look backward.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 17: Now It's Israel Missing the Opportunities

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Keystone Kops or cynics? That's the choice of labels for the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

My pick: The latter.

Only an opportunist would cause embarassment during the visit to Israel of Vice President Joe Biden by announcing an expanded program for construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu called the announcement "a technical mishap." Baloney.

Netanyahu has wanted to have it both ways since the beginning - looking to outside influences like he's interested in a peace process with the Palestinians, and keeping his right-wing government - not the most politically savvy in the world - happy. All this from someone who took the prime minister's seat without a majority of votes (sound familiar?).

Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly criticized the timing of the announcement. Special envoy George Mitchell, who wasn't accomplishing all that much before Israel's announcement, has postponed his next trip.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's brother-in-law has called President Barack Obama an "anti-Semite." Talk about stoking the fires of the Israeli right, which didn't like or trust Obama to begin with. Racism on their part toward a black U.S. president who has reached out to Arabs in peace - Does anyone in Netanyahu's government know or understand that word anymore? - may fuel some of those fires.

Israeli government officials have been misreading the signs ever since 2000, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon strutted into an archaeological dig near the Al Aqsa mosque. They misread on Sharon's 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, which cleared the way for Hamas terrorists to move in and start firing rockets at the northern Negev. They misread on their military conflicts with Hamas and Hezbollah in 2006 and 2008.

The late, great Israel statesman Abba Eban, born in South Africa, educated in England and devoted to his adopted country, once said of the Arabs, "They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

Now, whether by clumsiness or scorn, it's Israel missing the opportunity.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March 16: Three Cheers For Public Openness

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Yay, public.

Three cheers (and more) to everyone who called, wrote, e-mailed, Tweeted and just yelled in protest of a proposal by Florida House Speaker Larry Cretul to privatize the audio records of calls to 911.

Cretul had added the measure to a legitimate proposal to improve training for 911 operators. John Hoblick, president of the Florida Farm Bureau, wanted to see the calls made private after Hoblick heard, on the news, the 911 call regarding his 16-year-old son, Jake, who died of a combination of alcohol and illegal prescription drugs, the Palm Beach Post reports today. The Post, The Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times have reported on the Florida Farm Bureau's donations to the Republican Party of Florida.

Cretul's timing was lousy - the publication of his proposal came during Florida's Sunshine Week, when media across the state are publishing and airing stories and editorials about open government.

While Hoblick's grief for his son is understandable, so is that of the family of Denise Lee of Charlotte County. The Lee family wants to make sure the calls remain public, because 911 operators in that county mishandled calls when Denise was kidnapped. Denise Lee was later murdered.

The 911 system receives public money to operate. The public needs to know it is working properly, and the release of audio calls helps to guarantee that.

This Sunshine Week, Floridians have shown they understand what it means to have open records. Good for them.

Monday, March 15, 2010

March 15: MLB Doesn't Deserve Sole Blame For Its Lack of U.S. Blacks

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Torii Hunter of the Anaheim Angels needs a history lesson about black Hispanics, who were also slaves a couple of hundred years ago in countries like the Dominican Republic.

His comment calling them "imposters" as black players was uncalled for. He has said he made a mistake with that word choice. You'd better believe it.

Hispanics have added plenty of talent and diversity to Major League Baseball. That is beyond question.

But Hunter has a legitimate point about baseball's current lack of blacks born in the United States. The sport that opened the door for Jackie Robinson to break barriers has seen a steady drop in the number of African-Americans since the 1970s. This despite current stars such as Hunter and Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies, and successful MLB programs such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and the league's partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

There are a lot of causes - most notably the rise in popularity of basketball and football as sports more conveniently available - complete with big money and scholarships - to inner-city blacks.

Hunter may be right about Major League Baseball heavily recruiting players from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other Latin American countries. But they recruit where there's something for them to recruit.

What's coming from colleges and universities? Not enough.

What's coming from high schools to colleges and universities? Not enough.

What's coming from Little League to high schools? Not enough.

And where are the Little League teams in African-American communities? There are some, but again, it's not nearly enough.

Systematic failure from youth baseball to the big leagues in dealing with the competition from other sports is responsible. It hasn't helped, either, that popular baseball stars such as Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Barry Bonds turned out to be poor role models, turning off several generations of children to the sport.

A gathering of leaders from the various baseball levels and communities might start the process towards truly reviving baseball among American blacks. To lead the gathering? Maybe the First Baseball Fan?

How about it, President Obama?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

March 11: Gimenez Proposal For Jackson Sounds Promising

By Sylvia Gurinsky

John Dorschner of The Miami Herald reports that Miami-Dade County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez is putting together a new plan to try to clean up the mess that is Jackson Memorial Hospital:

It's good to hear someone coming up with something sane.

Eneida Roldan, Jackson's president and chief executive officer, seems to be in over her head. Her latest suggestion - closing the Jackson North and South satellite hospitals - would reverse the bad decision of opening them in the first place, but would make matters worse if no one else is available to take the patients who have gotten treatment and had their lives saved there.

The Public Health Trust has been equally ineffective in looking for solutions.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez has continued his wanderings through Fantasyland with a theory that he could head a board to oversee Jackson. Go back and listen to the Superman theme, Mr. Mayor.

Gimenez's idea, at least, has promise. Finally.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March 9: Florida Legislature Should Have No Ethics Conflicts

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Floridians would probably have this reaction on seeing Florida Senate Bill 438: Duh.

The Florida Legislature should have this reaction: Yes.

The bill is sponsored by State Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland. Its companion House Bill 587 is sponsored by State Rep. Adam Fetterman, D-Port St. Lucie. Called the "Restoring Trust In Government Act," it would prohibit any member of the legislature from voting on or having any part in bills that would affect any of their family members.

The legislation has bipartisan support in both houses. But a potential roadblock in the Senate is exactly the reason this legislation is needed: State Sen. John Thrasher heads the Ethics and Elections committee.

You guessed it: Thrasher has been nabbed - twice - for violating ethical standards in the past. Oh, yes, Thrasher may become the next chairman of Florida's Republican Party, which has a few ethics issues of its own.

Thrasher and other bigwigs in the Legislature would be well advised to push the legislation through as quickly as possible - and add an amendment to provide for penalties, which is lacking now.

Lawmakers should approve this bill - resoundingly. Not all of them made the current mess, but they should all help to clean it up.

Monday, March 8, 2010

March 8: Better the Seminoles Now Than.....

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It's not realistic to think that Florida not reaching an agreement with the Seminole Tribe over gambling funds will make gambling go away.

If anything, the situation will get worse if the state doesn't reach an agreement with the Seminoles.

Interests from the gaming industry are waiting with plenty of campaign money for state lawmakers willing to play roulette with Florida's future. They'll make those bogus claims that it's good for schools. They'll ignore the fact that Florida still doesn't have a system to treat addicts and educate the public about the dangers of compulsive gambling.

Miami Beach could become the gambling mecca it threatened to become in 1978, until Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, about to leave office, stood up against gambling in the state - which led to its defeat at the polls then. Now, moguls are probably ready to stick a casino into the Fontainebleau, which certainly doesn't need one.

The Florida Legislature is currently talking with the tribe. They should hammer out a deal that includes money for addiction treatment, education and prevention.

One of the things that should be prevented is further gambling polluting the state. Better the Seminole agreement now than casinos dotting Florida's beautiful beaches later.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March 4: Crist's Double Message: Governor and Campaigner

By Sylvia Gurinsky

At least Florida Gov. Charlie Crist didn't walk on the podium to the theme from "Superman," unlike Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez.

But unmistakeably, Crist's last "State of the State" speech as governor was also a campaign speech in his U.S. Senate race. The chief message he sent: He's moving back to being the pragmatic centrist who moved to 10 Adams Street four years ago.

He defended the federal stimulus package and his efforts to get an agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida over gambling revenues. He also discussed the need to generate jobs.

He's unlikely, however, to get much help from a Florida Legislature that is still going to be stingy about certain parts of the budget - or from Republicans who are more interested in supporting Crist's Senate opponent, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.

There are thoughts, too, that Crist will be mostly passive in working with the Legislature, and that his lame-duck status as governor won't help.

Here's some advice: Surprise 'em, Governor. Being proactive is essential for the position you still hold. It's even more essential for Floridians, who can't afford to have their lives hanging on political soap operas.

It would be a nice followup for a governor who got back to Florida's business yesterday.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

March 2: Greed - Ethics = Public Danger

By Sylvia Gurinsky

It isn't just the Bernard Madoffs of the world that have people feeling discouraged about business culture. It's the Toyotas and Johnson & Johnsons of the world.

Unbelievably, Toyota, the Old Reliable of the automotive industry, has had serious problems with many of its recent models. Recall notices are still going out and Toyota executives are still testifying on Capitol Hill, even as Toyota has (unwisely) put its ads back on the air.

Johnson & Johnson, which showed how to handle a crisis properly in 1982 when Tylenol capsules were being poisoned by a serial killer, has shown how not to handle a crisis more recently. It delayed recalls of a number of its products for months and is now under investigation regarding kickbacks concerning a prescription medication offered to nursing homes.

Government regulators have also been called to answer for actions, or inactions, in both circumstances.

But it all leads back to the same thing: Too much greed and not nearly enough ethical behavior by companies or regulators. That formula equals more danger for the public.

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 1: Sniglets On NBC and Olympics, Marco Rubio and Credit Cards and Comment From Steve Weinberg

By Sylvia Gurinsky

Is there anyone who thinks NBC's "Junkyard Jeffs" - executives Jeff Zucker and Jeff Gaspin - should not head out the door after the latest evidence of their incompetence?

NBC, for a change, had two good weeks of coverage of the Winter Olympics, with excellence in a number of its sports and anything Bob Costas and Al Michaels did. That was crowned by yesterday's amazing hockey game between the United States and Canada.

Then, it almost got spoiled by the network's idiotic decision to split its closing ceremony coverage in two - and put Jerry Seinfeld's equally idiotic "The Marriage Ref" in the middle.

Lots of viewers got angry, and let NBC know about their anger. Good for them.

Sorry to say, NBC is still stuck with the incompetents in the boardrooms until the Comcast sale issue is resolved, one way or another. That means viewers will be stuck with more of their decisions. Now that the Olympics are over, those viewers will likely make their own decisions - to watch other channels.


Yes, it's a cliche, but U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio of Florida should have decided to leave home without it.

News reports that Rubio charged thousands of dollars on an American Express card provided by the Republican Party of Florida have generated lots of attention for Rubio, who has become the front runner in the party primary. Not good attention, either.

On "This Week In South Florida" yesterday, my friend and former colleague Michael Putney of Miami's WPLG-Channel 10 had an excellent commentary about the situation. He said Rubio seemed to have a sense of entitlement. He also mentioned both Rubio and the Florida GOP's lack of guidelines on spending issues.

One of the reasons Jim Greer has been pushed out of his party chairman post is because of spending matters. Gov. Charlie Crist, Rubio's opponent in the Senate race and a friend of Greer's, has taken a lot of heat for backing Greer.

But it looks like Rubio, former Florida House speaker, went to the party, too.

Here's a message to Rubio, to paraphrase Crist: Live within your means.


Here's the link to the response by Steve Weinberg to my blog commentary last Wednesday (I'm trying to paste it, but can't, for some reason):

There is still that nagging question about whether the report will be published......A truly independent report would be. I still disagree with Weinberg about the degree of full independence for this study.